If we don’t stop squabbling, America, we’re doomed.

Here’s a summary of the US Senate’s 2nd bipartisan report on Russian interference in our society. If we don’t stop squabbling and get our act together, America, we’re doomed.

Takeaway: Russia spent more than $1.25 million per month prior to the 2016 election, and even more ever since, to make you and me argue about gun rights, kneeling at football games, police, and immigration. As a nation, we fell for it, because we’re too lazy/stupid to check our sources and stop shouting talking points.

Note. Senate. Not the House.

Here’s a summary. Don’t assume it’s an attack on Donald Trump, because that is utterly not the point. Set aside your pride, frustration, or rage and realize that if we can’t talk to each other, Russia wins. That’s the point.

Section 1: Introduction.

In 2016, Russia’s Internet Research Agency masqueraded as Americans online to polarize our opinions, and to promote their favored candidate. The Senate took up this topic as part of their mandate to evaluate threats.

Section 2: Findings. (Each sentence summarizes one paragraph by quotation.)

“The IRA sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.

“The Russian government tasked and supported the IRA’ s interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

“Russia’s history of using social media as a lever for online influence operations predates the 2016 U.S. presidential election and involves more than the IRA.

“The preponderance of the operational focus . . . was on socially divisive issues — such as race, immigration, and Second Amendment rights — in an attempt to pit Americans against one another and against their government.

“The IRA targeted not only Hillary Clinton, but also Republican candidates during the presidential primaries.

“No single group of Americans was targeted by IRA information operatives more than African-Americans.

“The nearly 3,400 Facebook and Instagram advertisements the IRA purchased are comparably minor in relation to the over 61,500 Facebook posts, 116,000 Instagram posts, and 10.4 million tweets that were the original creations of IRA influence operatives, disseminated under the guise of authentic user activity. [So ad spending was a drop in the bucket.]

“The IRA coopted unwitting Americans to engage in offline activities . . . not just focused on inciting anger and provoking division on the internet . . . targeted African-Americans over social media to influence [them] to sign petitions, share personal information, and teach self-defense training courses; [and] posing as U.S. political activists . . . requested — and in some cases obtained — assistance from the Trump Campaign in procuring materials for rallies and in promoting and organizing the rallies.

“The IRA was not Russia’s only vector for attempting to influence the United States through social media in 2016.

“IRA activity on social media did not cease, but rather increased after Election Day 2016.

“More than 80% of the disinformation accounts in our election maps are still active … [and] continue to publish more than a million tweets in a typical day.”


A Bit About Dobie

Some of you know my Chihuahua, Dobie. He came to live with us back in 2006. I had just turned 50, with the typical mid-life crisis, bought a big-ass motorcycle and a tiny little dog.

Our family has had dogs ever since our daughters were little: they’re great for companionship, life lessons, and developing allergy resistance when you’re young.

But Dobie was the first dog specifically for me—my responsibility to feed, water, litter train, clean up after, and generally keep happy and healthy. Together, we worked out 21 tricks: sit, stay, come, lie down, back up, crawl, speak, hush, shake hands, wave, spin, roll over, play dead, prairie dog, get it, stand, walk (hind legs), twirl (hind legs), up, down, kisses.

He’s now middle aged. A few weeks ago he developed a luxated patella, so most of those tricks are over with. Lately he’s been off his food. Most of yesterday and last night he spent vomiting. The family and I just got back from the vet, and Dobie has a bit of a heart murmur and a whole lot of renal failure.

I had to ask. The vet said with special diet and care, about a year to a year-and-a-half . . .

Shakespeare wrote: “This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, / To love that well which thou must leave ere long.” Yeah, I get it. Life’s transience is what makes things so precious. That’s still not how I’d make a world.

But it’s what we’ve got. So for the next year or two, or however long, my family and I will take special care to make sure Dobie’s life continues to be good and full of love. He doesn’t know. I wish I didn’t. But for what time remains, under the cloud of that knowledge, I’ll bask in the light of his personality.

And if you’ll forgive just a bit of maudlin sentimentality, of all the tricks we worked out together, I’m especially glad that as his health declines and others go away, “kisses” is the one to remain.

The “Dream” Team, Elder Sign: Omens

Nearly five years later, I’m still playing this app, trying out new themed combinations of investigators.

Currently I’m working a two-person team related by their “Other Worlds” abilities: Luke Robinson, Lucid Dreamer; and Gloria Goldberg, Psychic Sensitivity. Which probably explains my calling this themed pairing the “Dream” Team.

Gloria’s ability gives her an automatic red die and yellow die whenever she’s in an Other World. That’s a huge benefit, especially given that most Other Worlds pay out one or two Elder Signs needed to win the game.

A hidden benefit of visiting an Other World just before the clock strikes each turn is that when solved, it avoids any possibility of getting saddled with a new Midnight-penalty location before you can react.

Luke’s ability to spend 4 trophies to open an Other World means that he keeps Gloria well supplied with Other Worlds to visit.

Against the first four Great Old Ones they’re a killer combination, with Gloria not only quickly racking  up Elder Signs, but also scoring enough trophies to buy an extra one or two from the Souvenir Shop. And it’s easy to score high by gaining Elder Signs beyond what you actually need. Just save back a two- or three-sign Other World to finish when you’re one point away from winning.

The team is not without its weaknesses, however:

1. Gloria’s ability is crippled at sea in the Cthulhu mission, since Other Worlds can’t appear there. (On the other hand, she regains it in the climactic R’lyeh battle, which means you can concentrate on adventures without Common and Unique items.)

2. In some missions you maybe don’t want to rack up Elder Signs so quickly, preferring more time to gather equipment.

3. Both characters have low Stamina, which makes some encounters too deadly to choose. That hurts in the desert of the Dark Pharoah mission. And I’m sure it’s going to make the Arctic a challenge in the Ithaqua mission I’m currently tackling. Then again, I once won that mission with Wendy Adams solo. So here’s hoping!

If you haven’t read my about my earlier themed teams over the years, just do an Elder Signs search with the text box upper right on this page. And please let me know what team-ups or strategies you like best!


Why I Am Who I Am

At 13 years of age my dad worked 10-12 hour days with his dad, wearing blisters on his hands hoeing tobacco fields and cutting trees with a two-man crosscut saw. Dad was kept out of school to work fields the first six weeks of classes and the last six weeks every year. He never had a chance to attend junior and senior years.

This was what it took to keep his younger brothers and sisters fed, clothed, and sheltered. And sometimes the food was only water biscuits and water gravy. Water carried by hand from a spring down the hill.

(Note: My relatives had owned two farms and a general store until the Great Depression.)

At 18, Dad left home and took a job in a canning factory. He and a few other fellows just as poor slept nights in a nearby bean field, with a canning knife always at hand to keep from being robbed. At 19 he landed a job at a General Electric plant, married my mother, and had his first son—me.

Dad paid rent for the house we lived in by working the owner’s fields each evening after factory hours. He bought a used car to get back and forth from the plant that winter. Turns out the dealer had packed sawdust in the oil pan to keep it from leaking, just long enough to sell it, and the car broke down, leaving Dad in a financial quagmire.

The dealer tried to garnishee my father’s wages; GE threatened to fire Dad if that happened. A local lawyer heard the situation and intervened so my mom and I wouldn’t end up homeless that winter. (He didn’t charge anything, just made my young father promise to never assume everyone’s word was their bond.)

GE was not a pleasant place to work back then. A worker could be fired without cause, and there were no safety laws on the books. Dad risked his job to help establish a labor union in the plant, the AFL-CIO.

My brothers and I never had to worry about food or clothes, or even schooling. Dad’s work ethic saw to that. But we also learned something of that labor ourselves, hoeing vegetable gardens, snapping beans and shucking corn for canning until past midnight many school nights.

I kept exemplary grades from elementary school through high school, partly through innate curiosity about the world, partly because study was just another type of labor, and work was a fact of life. But college was a foreign concept to people of our working-class roots. As inconceivable as traveling to a foreign country. (Except perhaps in the Armed Forces; my family has always included soldiers and sailors.)

So I married young (to a tenant farmer’s daughter) and went to work in the same factory as my dad, working alongside the guys who had fought beside him for the union representation I now enjoyed. I spent 8 1/2 years there, proud to be a laborer, but wishing for more education.

My wife encouraged me to join the National Guard, and I went in as a medic. Spent a year in nursing school, became an LPN, and started college classes for a Physician’s Assistant license. I worked part-time jobs between classes, and Jenny managed our household of five while also caring for state-sponsored handicapped kids. It was a “tough row to hoe,” as Dad would say. Sometimes we resorted to food stamps.

In college I fell in love with writing and fixed my sights on a publishing career. Contract work led to a salaried position at Game Designers Workshop, which led in turn to TSR, and even a bit of European travel. With TSR’s demise I settled for writing in educational publishing—though I continued freelance game work on the side. Now in retirement I still do for the sheer love of it.

I never made a fortune, sometimes barely kept the family housed and fed. But I learned to never stop learning, taught my daughters the same, and encouraged them to pursue their own dreams. One owns a farm (where I now live); one lives in Belgium (speaks four languages); one has started a film career as a sound engineer; and one helps care for her aging parents (and my self-publishing).

Why tell you all this? Because it explains why I identify with blue-collar labor and migrant workers, social workers and teachers, nurses and wait staff, and rank-and-file Armed Forces members. Education has only made me more aware of how they’ve always been taken advantage of. How they still are. How little difference there is between inherited wealth and inherited royalty.

Read Jack London’s The People of the Abyss. If you never read anything else in your life, read that. And then Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money.

People who make things make the world. If they get rich doing so, wonderful!

But people who make only money do so through the sweat and suffering of others. They wield the most political power while contributing the least to human civilization. They make the world their casino. And the house always wins.

These are my considered beliefs. This is who I am.